Drones and Privacy Guidelines

Drone technology continues to outpace drone policy, particularly in the thorny area of privacy. While there are many benefits to the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), there are increasing concerns about drones’ impact on individual privacy and their ability to collect personal data that could be used commercially.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) recently released a voluntary “best practices” guide for commercial and non-commercial drone users.

Even though they are voluntary, the guidelines provide real common-sense advice, policies and boundaries for drone operators. Here are some condensed highlights:

  • Drone operators who collect personal data should have a clear privacy policy that explains what personally identifiable information will be collected, for what purpose will it be gathered and under what circumstances, if any,  the information be shared with others, including law enforcement agencies.
  • Personal data collected by drones should not be used for marketing purposes without the individual’s consent.
  • Personal data collected without consent also should not be used for such matters as employment eligibility, promotion, retention, credit eligibility or health care treatment eligibility unless such use is expressly permitted.
  • Data collected by a drone should not be held beyond a reasonable period, again without the consent of the individual – except under special circumstances, such as legal disputes.
  • Drone operators should minimize drone activity over or within private property without consent or legal authority.

“In the absence of a compelling need to do otherwise, or consent of the data subjects, UAS operators should avoid using UAS for the specific purpose of intentionally collecting covered data where the operator knows the data subject has a reasonable expectation of privacy,” the report on the guidelines states.

The NTIA, located within the U.S. Department of Commerce, was tasked last year with this task. Stakeholders involved in formulating the guidelines included drone organizations, private companies and academics.

Since the recommendations are voluntary, they may not have an immediate, widespread impact on drone practices. But I believe they are a good starting point for drone users to consider when it comes to surveying individuals and gathering personal information from them.